Babies fall asleep faster when you carry them while walking, compared to when you carry them in a chair or put them to bed
September 13, 2022
Scientists have discovered the most effective technique for calming a crying baby.
An experiment with 21 babies less than 7 months old found that they were more likely to stop crying and fall asleep when their mother walked with them, compared to when they were held in a chair or put to bed in a crib.
“This finding makes sense because when most people pick up a crying baby, they rarely sit still with them, they instinctively walk,” he says. Harriet Hiscock at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia.
Kumi Kuroda at the RIKEN Center for Brain Science in Japan and colleagues became interested in how babies respond to movement after studying the “transport response” in other mammals, in which babies become passive and develop slower heart rates when their mothers carry them.
To test the effect in people, the team monitored the crying of 21 babies in Japan and Italy as their mothers tried four methods of calming them: holding their baby while walking, moving them from side to side in a stroller or rocking cradle, holding them while sitting and laying them down on a cot.
The experiments, each lasting 5 minutes, were performed at home or in a laboratory, depending on the mother’s preference.
Babies did not calm down when their mothers carried them sitting up or placed them in a crib. But when their mothers walked with them, they all stopped crying and almost half of them fell asleep within 5 minutes.
Rocking them in a stroller or crib had a similar calming effect, but to a lesser extent. This was probably because rocking created a rhythmic motion similar to walking.
Heart monitors attached to the babies showed that, like other baby mammals, their heart rates slowed when their mother held them.
Preliminary experiments with parents showed that they also calmed their babies when they walked with them.
This transport response may have evolved so that babies can sleep on top of their caregivers while they go about their daily activities or to keep them quiet if their caregiver sees a predator and needs to steal their baby away, Kuroda says.
The researchers advise caregivers using this walking technique to hold their baby for another 5 to 8 minutes after he falls asleep before putting him in a crib, since the babies in the study tended to wake up if moved earlier.
pamela douglas at the University of Queensland and Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, says that walking babies is just a tool to encourage them to sleep. “This study did not include breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, which we know are very effective methods of down-regulating sleep in little ones,” she says.
According to Hiscock, the walking technique is useful for babies up to 6 months, but then they should be encouraged to learn to settle. “You don’t want to have to walk them to sleep every time they wake up during the night,” she says.
Magazine Reference: current biology, DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2022.08.041
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